CLEVELAND - You can indirectly blame the Browns' 38-21 loss to the Washington Redskins on Robert Griffin III.
If RG III had been able to play through a knee injury, Kirk Cousins wouldn't have started at quarterback for the Redskins. In that case, the Browns wouldn't have been victimized by a memorable rookie debut by Cousins, who passed for 329 yards and two touchdowns to keep Washington's playoff hopes alive.
The faint playoff hopes of the Browns were extinguished as their record slipped to 5-9. The loss snapped their three-game winning streak.
The Associated Press
Washington Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield (96) sacks Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden in the fourth quarter of their game on Sunday. The Redskins won 38-21.
After a shaky start that included an interception by safety T.J. Ward, Cousins settled down and picked apart the Browns' secondary with quick accurate throws off bootleg action. His passer rating was 104.4, nearly equaling Griffin's 104.2 rating for the season.
Browns coach Pat Shurmur said the late decision by Redskins coach Mike Shanahan to sit Griffin had no impact on his preparations.
"They would have been doing all the same things, with the addition of the option if RG III was in the game," Shurmur said. "That looked like the Redskins' offense. I'd like to credit Kirk. He did a nice job."
Cousin's performance was in stark contrast to the bad effort staged by Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, who was 21-of-35 for 244 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. It might have been Weeden's worst showing since posting a 5.3 passer rating against the Philadelphia Eagles in the season opener.
"Obviously I didn't play well enough for us to win," Weeden said. "I didn't play well for the most part throughout. I'm not losing confidence over it because I feel like I'm still going in the right direction. I put our defense in a tough spot, once for sure with the one on our side of the field, and that one is on me. You can't turn it over. You have to get first downs, and that's my job."
The complexion of the game changed after the Browns had taken a 14-10 halftime lead. On the second play of the third quarter Weeden's pass over the middle for Greg Little was intercepted by linebacker Rob Jackson, whose 17-yard return put the ball at the Browns' 15. Alfred Morris scored from the 3 three plays later to give the Redskins a 17-14 lead.
"You can't throw interceptions," Shurmur said.
The touchdown set off something in the Redskins, who proceeded to pick apart the Browns' defense. Cousins was 4-of-4 on Washington's next possession, including a 2-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson.
Early in the fourth quarter running back Evan Royster concluded a 10-play, 67-yard possession with a 4-yard touchdown run as the Redskins' lead expanded to 31-14. The score sent many in the crowd of 65,083 to the exits.
"At the end of the day you're going to run play-action schemes based on your running game," Shanahan said. "If it's an option read or an isolation play of an off-tackle play, you try to complement your running game with the play action. I thought Kirk did an excellent job of executing everything we asked him to do."
Weeden gave the remaining fans a glimmer of hope when he hit receiver Travis Benjamin on a 69-yard touchdown pass with 10:11 still to play. Benjamin was wide open due to a blown coverage by cornerback D.J. Johnson.
"I'm pretty sure it was a busted coverage because as I got on him he just seemed like he was jogging like a run (play)," Benjamin said. "So I ran right past him."
The Redskins put a definitive end to the game on the ensuing possession with an eight-play, 76-yard drive. Cousins connected with Josh Morgan for 32 yards on the first play. Morris scored for the second time on an 8-yard run.
Cousins got off to a shaky start against an inspired Browns' defense that didn't allow a first down on the first four possessions by the Redskins. On the third play of the second possession a pass by Cousins for Pierre Garcon was tipped by cornerback Sheldon Brown and intercepted by Ward, who returned it 37 yards to the Washington 6.
Running back Trent Richardson bulldozed his way in on the first play to give the Browns a 7-0 lead.
Richardson was basically a non-factor. He was limited to 28 rushing yards on 11 carries.
"The way we game-planned the whole week we thought it was going to be a good outcome, but you have games where some outrageous stuff happens," Richardson said. "Today we let ourselves down and we let down the whole city of Cleveland. Everybody, especially season-ticket holders, I feel bad for them and I want to come to them and apologize."
The Redskins tied the score on a beautiful touchdown pass from Cousins to Hankerson in the first quarter. Cousins rolled to his right off boot action and split the safeties. Hankerson fell near the Browns' 5 but got up in time to score.
A 44-yard field goal by Kai Forbath gave the Redskins a 10-7 lead in the second quarter. Richardson scored on another 1-yard run to give the Browns a four-point halftime lead.
It was all Washington the rest of the way.
"You've got to give Kirk Cousins credit," Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "He replaced RG III; he played good offense and he kept drives alive and obviously they scored a ton of points."
The Browns are in Denver to play the Broncos Sunday.